Tragically Inane: The Cherry Orchard and Six Characters

The deconstruction of the conventions of the theatre in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard predicts the more radical obliteration presented later by Pirandello in Six Characters in Search of an Author. The seed of this attack on convention by Chekhov are the inherent flaws of all the characters in The Cherry Orchard. The lack of any character with which to identify or understand creates a portrait much closer to reality than the staged drama of Ibsen or other playwrights who came before. In recognizing the intrinsic flaws of its characters, we can see how Chekhov shows us that reality is subjective, reality is not simple, linear, or clean, and that the real benefit of theater is to show this inane, subjective reality.

There are essentially three flaws that permeate over the characters of The Cherry Orchard. The obvious first flaw is nostalgia. Madame Ranevsky is obviously the main character in this group, as she is really in charge of her family, and her inability to move on with the present is so striking in comparison with what the audience so desperately wants her to do. To her, everything is in the past - even the present. She can't get past the days of her childhood or the disasters six years previous. Even when she is forced to face reality - that the orchard has been sold - it seems like an event in the past. It has been inevitable from the beginning, and so even as it happens, the events are old news. A wonderful example of Madame Ranevsky's nostalgic focus appears as her last substantive line in the play: "One last look... Our dear mother used to walk up and down this room." Madame Ranevsky sees the past, present, and future as the past only.

Gayef, Simon-Pitschik, and Firs are the other characters that complete this group fixated on the past. Their versions of the past differ slightly, but that is almost all of the difference between their individual versions of the flaw. Essentially, Gayef is a benign, ineffectual man, and so his past is consistent with that. Firs and Pitschik both have an aggravated sense of the beauty of the past. Firs sees being a peasant as a wholly beneficial experience - at least in the past. Pitschik seems generally confused about what is happening and what has happened, while still being obsessively nostalgic.

The reason why this nostalgia can be compared to a tragic flaw is that it causes the characters it afflicts to ignore the reality of the present. In doing so, it seals their fate to what they call tragedy: the loss of the cherry orchard.

The second group of flawed characters exists mainly for themselves. They are vain, and generally naïve. Danyasha is the best example of this vanity. She dresses outside of the peasant class to heighten her own importance. She also gives herself a highly dramatic quality in everything she does. This is best shown right before Madame Ranevsky returns to the house. "I'm going to faint!" she says as she playacts for Lopakhin. She stages her actions for attention and lives off that attention. It is unfair to compare Anya to Dunyasha completely, but so too is Anya's flaw a form of vanity. She does care about her family, but she only cares to the extent of worry. And yet still she seeks attention and drama in her displays of concern. But the characteristic that overwhelmingly captures Anya is her naïve selfishness. She cares about those who pay her attention and pander to her. Her love for Trophimof comes off as something so horribly artificial, and yet that is exactly what she wants.

Charlotte is the third character in this group of vanity, and she is also a complicated choice. She lives in a shallow world because that is what was created for her. We are not given much by which to examine Charlotte, but what is shown is a girl who occasionally questions life, but mainly lives for the "tricks" of life. Her parents were showmen, and so is she. That is what is expected, and what is real.

The reason why vanity renders Dunyasha, Anya, and Charlotte useless to stop the sale of the orchard is because it makes every issue an issue about "me." Through whatever happens, the